Calgary An ‘Excellent Candidate’ To Establish Hydrogen Hub

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The Calgary region has both the supply and demand components needed to take a lead position in hydrogen economy development, according to a new study.

Towards a Fuel Hydrogen Economy in the Calgary region: A feasibility study is an 81-page report recently released by the Transition Accelerator.

It calls the Calgary region “superbly positioned to take a leadership role in transitioning to a vibrant hydrogen economy …”

Furthermore, it states, the region would be an “excellent candidate to establish a hydrogen hub and link with other hubs to create transportation corridors supporting heavy-duty trucks and trains across Western Canada, with links to similar initiatives in the USA.”

Demand centres are a crucial consideration, said David B. Layzell, energy systems architect and research director at the Transition Accelerator. He co-authored the report with Dinara Millington and Robert Lee.

Today, hydrogen is used almost exclusively as an industrial feedstock in Canada. Transitioning to a net-zero energy system includes expanding its role to a fuel, requiring a new set of customers.

For this, the report examines, “low-hanging fruit,” such as municipalities, trucks, buses, airports, in addition to larger industries, and if a critical mass expressing interest in being part of an early transition to a hydrogen economy exists, Layzell said.

It also looks at the region’s potential to produce low-carbon hydrogen at a reasonable cost, allowing early stages of a hydrogen economy to be deployed.

“Calgary has both of the above,” explained Layzell. “There are a lot of demand centres that are of interest … companies and organizations that are keen to be early adopters.

“We have a number of organizations … that are interested in hydrogen, for say, public transit, perhaps for use in publicly-owned vehicles,” he added. “We’ve got interest in the Calgary region, the Calgary International Airport is quite interested in hydrogen — initially, perhaps as fuel to support ground vehicles, but eventually a lot of interest in the potential in hydrogen as a sustainable aviation fuel that would support airplanes into the future.”

Hydrogen is not likely to be used in airplanes in the near-term, Layzell noted.

According to the report, the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) will be making H2 trucks available for carriers to trial in 2023 and early 2024, focused on the Edmonton region.

“Calgary has an opportunity to be an anchor … to provide fuel and fueling stations to support trucking between Edmonton and Calgary, and even Calgary and region and Vancouver … and also down to the United States,” said Layzell.

Calgary-headquartered Canadian Pacific Railway Limited is highlighted as an important player.

“They are another demand centre, but in the supply business, as well,” said Layzell.

“It has already converted one of its diesel-electric locomotives to hydrogen. That locomotive is on the rails … and is starting to be used commercially to move goods around the Calgary region.”

Regarding supply, Layzell points south of Calgary to wind and solar resources that could be used to produce hydrogen. He also singled out southern Alberta’s geology and its ability to be leveraged for geological sequestration.

“We identified in the report a number of companies that are already producing hydrogen within the Calgary region and that have some excess hydrogen that they would be very interested in moving into the transportation market, for example, and fuel market,” he said. “They need to know there is a market for it.

“It’s about starting to build the entire value chain, where you are going to have some companies that now have a source of natural gas, they are interested in converting that natural gas into hydrogen and capturing the CO2, geologically sequestering it.

“[Then] trying to develop a very low-carbon intense hydrogen source and feeding it through, initially perhaps, fueling station, heavy-duty trucks or for trains.”

Beyond the relative environmental advantages to hydrogen use, Layzell called it an economic development opportunity for the region.

“It is an opportunity to start making the kind of zero-emission fuels that the whole world is looking for, but also using the resources that we have in Alberta — our fossil fuel resources and our geological resources to do so,” he continued. “As we build out that infrastructure with this lower-cost blue hydrogen, there are opportunities for [green hydrogen] production to essentially piggyback on the same infrastructure resources like pipelines and fueling stations that are distributed along major transportation corridors.”

Calgary, Edmonton joining forces

The vision for a hydrogen hub in the Edmonton region launched in April 2021. A website for the region says there are more than 25 related projects in the area.

Layzell says there’s potential for synergy between the two major Alberta centres.

“We can make hydrogen in the Edmonton region, with carbon capture and storage for … probably around $2 a kilogram,” he said.

“The cost of moving that hydrogen down to the Calgary region, 300 kilometres or so away, could add two, three, four dollars a kilogram on top of that price.

“It would be to the benefit of Edmonton, Calgary, and the entire hydrogen economy to have Edmonton produce hydrogen that meets the local needs there and then have a cost-effective production of hydrogen in Calgary and really start to focus on corridors.”

Rather than cross-province competitors, Layzell thinks, as supply and demand build, activity in both regions will ramp up interest in the overall investment from key stakeholders, such as those that buy and lease related trucks.

“We get to attract the companies that make the vehicles, we get to attract more jobs and opportunities for companies for converting trains, for example …”

There are a number of companies now setting up in Alberta that are interested in retrofitting diesel trucks to be hydrogen/diesel dual-fuel, he added.

“If two of the major cities within Alberta are both committed to move towards a hydrogen economy, it dramatically reduces the risk those sectors feel and they become more interested in actually being part of this transition,” Layzell said.

What now?

In addition to partnering with the Edmonton hub, the report includes several recommended next steps including funding and empowering a hydrogen hub to build a consortium around a shared plan for a fuel hydrogen future.

“The consortia should include all levels of government [including First Nations], companies representing the entire value chain, non-profit organizations [universities, environmental groups, industry associations], and others willing to invest both time and resources to build and deploy a strategy that will attract both public and private sector funding,” it reads.

Moreover, the report states that the hydrogen hub requires full-time, dedicated staff resources for a minimum of a three-year commitment to build on information provided in this report and “connect with the coalition of the willing, identify the most promising industry or municipal government-led initiatives, help them attract resources and then deploy, monitor, communicate and grow.”

There is also a call for development of a CCUS strategy. In the transition to net-zero emissions, it says, many companies in the Calgary region are interested in connecting to a CO2 pipeline network, where CO2 is geologically sequestered.

“Such pipeline infrastructure is essential for the local production of blue hydrogen: especially as the demand for hydrogen grows and there is interest in deploying hydrogen pipelines that will serve vehicle refueling, building heat and power generation,” the report explains.  

“Therefore, the region should be helping to build a case for investment in CO2 pipelines and CCUS storage sites to enable the growth of the hydrogen economy.”

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